‘Kanthapura‘ is a novel by Raja Rao, published in 1938. It is primarily an account of freedom struggle in India. The action of the novel takes place at Kanthapura, a fictional village in South India.
Moorthy, the protagonist of the novel, is a staunch follower of Gandhian principles. He propagates at every doorstep, the significance of Gandhi’s struggle for independence. He convinces people to join the defiance freedom movement.
Achakka is the narrator of the novel. Achakka is an elderly Brahmin women who knows about everyone in the village. The story is told in a non-linear style called ‘sthala-purana‘.
Raja Rao wrote this novel while he was in France.
Kanthapura is a village near the Western Ghat mountain ranges. Goddess Kenchamma is the village patron deity who protects the village from ever since she had fought a demon in the Kenchamma hill above the village. Achakka introduces the primary characters and dominant community in the village.
Moorthy discovers a linga and it is placed in the village. The Brahmins gather to worship the God and do prayers. Moorthy collects money from the villagers for a conference on Gandhi’s promise on India’s independence from the British to be performed by Jayaramachar, a Harikatha man. This brings up a turmoil in the village accusing Moorthy trying to turn people for Gandhi’s cause. Bade Khan, a Muslim policeman, is appointed to monitor the village. Bade Khan stays in the nearby Skeffington Coffee Estate as he is denied permission for staying in the village by Patel Range Gowda.
Moorthy persuades many villagers to start spinning their own wool and khadi clothes following Gandhi’s beliefs not to depend upon foreign goods which will ruin the country’s economy. But Bhatta, the financier, doesn’t like Gandhi’s ideals. He is giving money to farmers for high interests. He instigates an establishment of Brahmin party to fight against Moorthy spreading Gandhism. Many join him including Venkamma, the priest Rangappa, Bhatta’s wife Chinnamma, Moorthy’s mother Narsamma and so on.
Dedicated his life to Gandhism, Moorthy wins Rangamma, a wealthy widow. Moorthy’s family is excommunicated for violating traditional system as he is seen carrying a corpse. Narsamma dies and Moorthy moves into Rangamma’s house.
Meanwhile, at the Skeffington Estate, the impoverished people in large numbers for low wages. The working condition in the estate is very horrible. The workers are tortured and forced to work there for life-time. Further they are encouraged to spend the hard-earned money on drinking in the nearby toddy shop. Moorthy begins to teach the coolies to read and write and also encourages them to join the protest movement. He takes up three days of fasting for running counter to Gandhian ideal of non-violence. It’s not he who has made the mistake; but he takes up the responsibility when a coolie woman has grabbed Bade Khan’s beard in the recent commotion.
Patel Range Gowda has enlisted himself in Moorthy’s protest movement. Together they establish a village Congress which follows the Gandhi’s National Congress.
Caught in the conspiracy, Moorthy is arrested during Kartik festival. He is released only after three months of imprisonment. Moorthy is welcomed by his supporters at Rangamma’s house with Gandhian slogans. He again takes up the Gandhian movement. It emphasizes the spinning of wool and rejection of caste system etc.,
The news about Gandhi’s arrest on his march against salt tax spreads. Two days later, 139 villagers march to the toddy grove and begins demolishing it. Three among the protesters are arrested: Ranchanna, Lingayya and Siddhayya. They continue their protest next week and the coolies from the estate join them to destroy the toddy grove. Police violence increases much more. Many including Moorthy are seriously injured in the lathi charge.
In the village, the people who dislike the British government, join Moorthy in more numbers. Many toddy shops are closed. The protest movement is accelerated more. Police arrest the people at midnight and assault the village women. Ratna, a widowed pariah woman who have experienced a tape attempt by a police officer, is elected as the leader of the movement after Moorthy is arrested.
Inspite of their proclaimed non-violence, many are massacred when they are marching against the police violence. Many are fired down and the villagers who hide in the sugarcane field witness this. Many begin to flee Kanthapura. Rachi sets fire on the village and it is reduced into ashes. The village people are scattered everywhere. The nearby villagers provide shelter to some of them.
Moorthy is released, but he is ready to give up Gandhian ideals and compromise with the British. Rangamma is still in jail. People from Bombay have come to occupy Kanthapura. Range Gowda is the only person to return to the village.